Abhishek Banerjee at the centre of Bengal poll storm

Abhishek Banerjee: TMC's No.2 at the centre of Bengal poll storm

Mamata Banerjee's nephew Abhishek is getting all the attention from the BJP, which is hurling the 'dynastic politics' barb at the West Bengal chief minister

Abhishek Banerjee, the nephew of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, had a fondness for the outdoors while growing up. Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders, who have been with Mamata since the inception of the party in 1998, recall that he had a liking for cricket.

Young Abhishek didn't become a cricketer; instead, he chose to follow his aunt into politics. Now, as West Bengal gears up for crucial Assembly polls, he is realising that politics is a different ball game (especially with BJP on the opposite side), with his aunt on a sticky wicket due to him.

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The saffron party is flinging one of its favourite insults to dethrone the Trinamool Congress: Dynastic politics. The reason: Abhishek is the de facto number two in the Trinamool Congress.

Buoyed by the success of this weapon in the past, the BJP is now trying to wound Mamata by taking aim at Abhishek, hoping that it would stick and sway the voters.

At every rally, the BJP reminds voters of Mamata's nephew. While the "Modi government was working towards ‘jan kalyan’, the Mamata Banerjee government was working towards ‘bhatija kalyan’," said Home Minister Amit Shah at a rally recently.

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The phrase “bhatija kalyan” (welfare of the nephew) has almost become a mantra for BJP. As the Assembly elections inch closer, a significant portion of the BJP’s top three's—Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Shah, J P Nadda—speeches are devoted to attacking Abhishek.

The conflict between Abhishek and the BJP reached a crescendo when the CBI questioned his wife Rujira in connection with a coal pilferage case. The incident drew sharp retorts from both Abhishek and the chief minister.

"If they think they can use these ploys to intimidate us they are mistaken," Abhishek said. The chief minister retaliated by questioning the assets of the Union Home Minister’s son, Jay Shah.

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Known to be very close to his aunt, Abhishek grew up seeing a feisty Mamata taking on the once-mighty CPM and finally ousting it from power in 2011.
Abhishek, unlike her aunt, did not rise through the grind of student politics. An MBA degree holder, Abhishek got initiated into politics by being fielded by Mamata from the Diamond Harbor Lok Sabha constituency after incumbent Somen Mitra resigned. He won the seat, becoming an MP at the young age of 26.

After being brought into politics at the insistence of the then TMC general secretary Mukul Roy, Abhishek, according to party sources, sidelined him. Later, Abhishek was used to clip the wings of the leaders whose ambitions seemed to outgrow the party.

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In a bid to bring the then Trinamool Youth Congress president Suvendu Adhikari under control, Mamata floated the Trinamool Yuva in 2011 and made Abhishek its president. TMC sources said that he began sidelining Adhikari, and in 2014 replaced him as the Trinamool Youth Congress president.

As his clout grew in the party, Abhishek started looking after not only the TMC’s organisational activities and campaign strategy, but also played a key role in its candidate selection.

However, his meteoric rise rubbed several leaders the wrong way. A section of senior leaders thought that he was handed power on a platter since he did not go through the political grind at the grassroots level, unlike others.

Leaders such as Adhikari, who had joined the BJP, made it clear that Abhishek was one of the main reasons behind their decision to ditch the TMC.

"I have neither been dropped on a parachute nor have risen using a lift. I reached this position, climbing stairs, step by step," said Adhikari last October, in a veiled dig at Abhishek. Within weeks he joined the BJP.

Reacting to this jibe, Abhishek said: "If I used a lift, I could have held 35 posts at once."

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TMC sources said that it was at Abhishek’s insistence the party hired poll strategist Prashant Kishor. Several senior TMC MLAs such as Mihir Goswami, who joined the BJP, had expressed displeasure at Kishor’s role in the party.

The results of the upcoming Assembly elections, an acid test for Abhishek, will determine whether Mamata’s decision to put him at the forefront of TMC’s activities was a wise move or a costly error.

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